ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart made it very clear when asked about his head-to-head meeting with Nick Saban in the CFP Championship Game that it was the players, not the coaches, who would determine the outcome.
That might not be how Smart’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, leads off the contract renegotiation talks with UGA, as Smart is believed to be seeking a 10-year guaranteed deal worth $100 million, but it remains a relevant point.
It was Smart’s historically dominant defense that came through against Alabama in the title game, limiting Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young to just one touchdown — at that, on a 16-yard drive after a fumble — in the 33-18 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Several of those Georgia defenders, along with a handful from the offense, figure prominently in the 2022 NFL Draft April 28-30.
The Bulldogs could have as many as 15 players selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, and will certainly shatter the program record set last season of nine players selected.
Different mock drafts produce different projections, and those will continue to vary as the postseason NFL evaluation process begins with the Senior Bowl, the NFL combine and the players’ workouts and meetings with teams.
The Senior Bowl Bowl is up first, taking place at 2:30 p.m. (TV: NFL Network) on Feb, 5 in Mobile, Ala.
The players begin arriving on Jan. 30 leading into the week of practice, where they will compete in one-on-one drills and team drills while coached by the staffs of the Detroit Lions and N.Y. Jets, and observed by hundreds of NFL coaches, scouts and personnel managers.
The eight Georgia players who received and accepted invites to compete are:
• DL Devonte Wyatt
• CB Derion Kendrick
• OL Jamaree Salyer
• LB Channing Tindall
• LB Quay Walker
• OG Justin Shaffer
• RB James Cook
• P Jake Camarda
The other eligible UGA players for the Senior Bowl were Jordan Davis, who received an invite but did not accept, and Zamir White and John FtizPatrick.
Georgia also has four underclassmen who declared for the NFL draft who were not eligible for the Senior Bowl, but are sure-fire NFL combine invitees March 1-7:
• LB Nakobe Dean
• DL Travon Walker
• S Lewis Cine
• WR George Pickens
Bulldogs 24-year-old senior quarterback Stetson Bennett has said he wants to continue playing football, but it would seem his options would be limited to returning to Georgia or playing at another school. There has not been an announcement.
RELATED: No guarantees for Stetson Bennett, Georgia quarterbacks room
Here’s a first-look at inside DawgNation draft predictions, in order of projection, entering into the postseason evaluation period:
LB Nakobe Dean
NT Jordan Davis
DE Travon Walker
WR George Pickens
CB Derion Kendrick
DT Devonte Wyatt
OL Jamaree Salyer
RB James Cook
SS Lewis Cine
LB Quay Walker
LB Channing Tindall
OL Justin Shaffer
RB Zamir White
P Jake Camarda
TE John FtizPatrick
Other Mock Drafts & Projections
Mel Kiper Jr. has three UGA players projected in the first round: Nakobe Dean (No. 9, Denver), Jordan Davis (No. 17 L.A. Chargers) and Travon Walker (No. 24, Dallas).
Pete Fiutak of Yahoo!Sports has Dean and Davis would be teammates if the projection proves correct, with Butkus Award-winner Dean going No. 9 overall to the Denver Broncos, and Outland Trophy-winner Davis being selected by Denver No. 22 overall.
Walker is projected to go No. 21 overall to the New England Patriots.
George Pickens is another potential first-round pick, with a worst-case scenario of going early in the third round.
CBS Mock Draft author Josh Edwards has Pickens going 31st in the first round behind Davis (14th), Dean (22nd) and Walker (27th).
CBS Mock Drafts authors Ryan Wilson had Derion Kendrick as a projected first-round pick at 29th overall, behind Dean (13th), Waker (15th) and Davis (25th).
The Yahoo!Sports author examined the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the other Bulldogs’ underclassmen who declared early:
Best case Late 4th
Worst case: Free agent
Best case Early 3rd
Worst case: Late 5th
Best case Late 1st
Worst case: Early 3rd